Marlborough, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 2973
Trip Date: June 22 2014
Elevation Gain (m): 1640
Round Trip Time (hr): 14
Total Trip Distance (km): 29
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: Rated alpine for our ascent due to a glacier approach and very steep snow. Exposed ridge to the summit from the top of the snow / glacier.
Technical Rating: MN7; YDS (I)
GPS Track: Download
MapGoogle Maps

After a perfect day on Mount Joffre I woke up the team at 03:30 on Sunday morning for an attempt at my 400th peak – Mount Marlborough. We packed up camp under a clear, cool sky and soon found ourselves under the approach gully up the north west side of the mountain. The snow was fairly hard, but there was a punchy crust if you went looking for it. We knew that we had to get up and down the steep south face to the upper ridge before the morning sun started to hit it. There was recent avy debris in the upper bowl so we knew that parts of the slope wanted to slide.

Mount Marlborough Route Map

We dumped most of our gear on a rock island near the bottom of the gully and started ‘shoeing up. The approach was perfect! A narrow gully led easily up to the upper bowl where we could see our route steepening significantly. It’s always fun scoping out a new route “on the fly” with no idea if it’ll actually go or not. Steven mentioned that maybe we should swap crampons for our ‘shoes but I was a bit concerned about punching through the crust and said the ‘shoes would probably go right up to the north west ridge. Should have listened to Steven on that one…

As we climbed up beside the fresh avy debris the slope began to steepen significantly. We’ve had a lot of experience on steep snow slopes the past month or so (Collie, Ayesha, Trapper, Cirrus, Joffre) and there’s one thing that’s always true – when the slope reaches and exceeds 40 degrees you must be in crampons! Near the ridge I began to get a bit dizzy from staring at the snow as I climbed (and probably due to a major head cold and all the exertion of the past 24 hours.). This was not great timing as the slope also steepened just past the 40 degree mark and the ‘shoes began to feel very insecure. It was way too late to change to the crampons at this point so we all powered up to the ridge above, using inertia and determination to override gravity temporarily!

A nice morning panorama with Warrior, Northover and Lyautey from L to R.
Ben comes up the last little bit of snow to the ridge – a bit too steep for ‘shoes but he makes it.

Once on the ridge top we could see that our route worked out just about as perfectly as a “blind” route could – we would definitely make the summit. If we tried reaching the ridge any quicker we’d have run into 5th class terrain. As it was, the ridge was plenty exposed to the summit – certainly didn’t want to slip off the north side here! The views, at 08:00 were sublime in every direction and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of “winging” my 400th summit. There’s a lot of memories in 400 mountain peaks and Marlborough, although not huge or sexy as a peak, ticked off a lot of reasons why I love the Rockies so much.

Ben walks the last bit of corniced ridge to the summit.
Summits include Foch, Petain, Joffre, Mangin, Cordonnier and Warrior (L to R).
The Royal Group with Warrior and Onslow in the foreground. King George at the left and Princess Mary at extreme left out of sight.
Ben starts down the exposed summit ridge – our route up is from bottom left on the snow and avy debris. Marlborough Pond at lower center right.

After snapping some summit photos we headed down. We had a long ways to hike out yet and the upper mountain would soon be in sun and we wanted to be long gone by then. Crampons worked great for descent – the steepest roll near the ridge was certainly steeper than anything we’d done on Joffre the day previous as we had to face inward for about 50 vertical meters before we could turn around and plunge step down the rest of the way.

Another successful summit – ambling down to our gear on a gorgeous, windless, clear morning. It doesn’t get better than this.

Read about the rest of our egress in my Joffre trip report.

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